Prepared for Good Works

How did you start your day today? Did you make the best use of your morning hours now that you are in a different life pattern? Has the pandemic completely thrown you out of a good routine, or have you established a new, good one? Living in an apartment with a dog has completely changed my routine for the first couple of hours. The early morning walk with him offers a beautiful glimpse of the world in the morning light to awaken my sense of God’s glory in nature. This week, there were plenty of baby deer left in a field by their mothers, who were on their way to retrieve them when we happened by. If I were walking by myself, I might be more contemplative, because it was a beautiful sight. But I am also training a puppy, so I have to attend to him as much as I observe my surroundings, especially since he reacts so energetically to the deer. Only by consistent training will he meet my expectations for obedience. Every walk becomes a teaching and learning opportunity. This ten-month-old anxious puppy doesn’t know what is appropriate or good for him, so I must teach him. It’s not enough to know what I should do; I have to apply my knowledge with determination, even though I haven’t had my coffee and want to take it easy. My dog will only improve if I endeavor to be the best trainer possible.

Being made in God’s image, we like to think that we know what is appropriate and good for us, but God must teach us, and we are responsible for learning to do what is good. In his letter to Timothy, Paul reminded his protégé of this principle. “If anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work…All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:21; 3:16-17) This promise—of being a good, useful vessel for honorable use—is for anyone and for every good work (vs. 21, 17). God’s provision of the canon of Scripture will make us complete if we put it to use. It is not enough to know God and know what is required of us; we are responsible for utilizing what God gives us to be useful to him. God cleanses and sets believers apart for good, holy, useful work. And we are to consistently strive for completeness, for our best service to Christ.

In 2 Timothy 2:21, we learn that we will only be useful to God if each of us “cleanses himself from what is dishonorable;” only then will “he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” The admonition to cleanse myself is an intimidating prospect. So I am encouraged by Calvin’s and Gill’s remarks: “Beyond all controversy, we are called to holiness. But the question about the calling and duty of Christians is totally different from the question about their power or ability. We do not deny that it is demanded from believers that they purify themselves; but elsewhere the Lord declares that this is their duty, while he promises by Ezekiel that he will send “clean waters, that we may be cleansed.” (Ezekiel 36:25.) Wherefore we ought to supplicate the Lord to cleanse us, instead of vainly trying our strength in this matter without his assistance.” (1) “He will appear to be one that is set apart by God the Father, and whose sins are purged away by the blood of Christ, and who is sanctified internally by the Spirit of God; for external holiness springs from internal holiness, and is, an evidence of it…meet for the master’s use: the use and service of Christ, who is the master of the house.” (2)

“Ultimately, God will allow nothing to escape; every detail of our lives is under His scrutiny. God will bring us back in countless ways to the same point over and over again. And He never tires of bringing us back to that one point until we learn the lesson because His purpose is to produce the finished product. “Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:4)” (3) Since we aren’t always sure how God might use us, isn’t it good to be prepared for use by the only One who truly knows what we will need? Are you as grateful as I am that God cleanses and sets believers apart for good, holy, useful work? That he helps us make the best use of Scripture, for our best service to Christ, if we ask? “Anyone” who cleanses himself meets these criteria, because only he or she can do so by the regenerating work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We are sanctified through our faith in Christ, by God’s grace and made new creatures, who want to be clean, right, and good for God. But Paul reminds us that God’s Word is what the Spirit uses to bring us to conviction and repentance for the learning we need.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) “Whereas it seems that Paul and Timothy’s opponents stressed certain aspects or portions of Scripture (e.g., genealogies, 1 Tim. 1:4; cf. Titus 3:9), Paul stresses the authoritativeness of all of Scripture. The divine origin of Scripture is the reason for its power to convert (2 Tim. 3:15) and its usefulness in training (v. 17). Because Scripture comes from God himself, ‘all’ of it is profitable in a range of ways, ultimately leading to righteousness.” (4) Those of us who study the Bible through the eyes of Jesus understand that his Bible was the Old Testament, as was Paul’s. So every book of the Bible reveals God’s grace in the gospel, either pre-incarnate, incarnate, or post-incarnate. And, unlike other religions that promote the godliness of their designated prophets, “…we know that God hath spoken to us, and are fully convinced that the prophets did not speak at their own suggestion, but that, being organs of the Holy Spirit, they only uttered what they had been commissioned from heaven to declare…Whoever then wishes to profit in the Scriptures, let him first of all, lay down this as a settled point, that the Law and the Prophets are not a doctrine delivered according to the will and pleasure of men, but dictated by the Holy Spirit.” (5) The NT Scriptures expand on the OT writings, describe in great detail how God cleanses and sets believers apart for good, holy, useful work. So let us make the best use of it for our best service to Christ.

Some Bible translations use the word “perfect” rather than “complete” to describe the one prepared by God’s Word. While we might argue that we are anything but perfect, can we deny that the Indwelling Holy Spirit is precisely that—without error, lack, or contradiction? We have been chosen by God the Father, given by him to the Son, regenerated by the Spirit, and given every opportunity to grow in sanctification, pandemic or not. We have already been made perfect and ready for whatever calling the Lord has for us. The hymn, “How Firm a Foundation,” comes to mind; its author rejoices in the solid foundation we have in Christ, regardless of our circumstances. “How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word! What more can He say than to you He hath said, who unto the Savior for refuge have fled? Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand…The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose I will not, I will not desert to his foes; that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!” (6)

(1) Calvin, John, “John Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible,” 2 Timothy 2:21, Bible Learning Society,https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/2timothy-2.html

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 2 Timothy 2:21, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/2timothy-2.html

(3) My Utmost For His Highest Devotional https://utmost.org

(4) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, 2 Timothy 3:16, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(5) Calvin, Ibid, 2 Timothy 3:16, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/2timothy-3.html

(6) “How Firm a Foundation” John Rippon, 1787.

July 31, 2020

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